Appendix C: Guidelines for Discernment

313-327.    Guidelines for Discernment for the First Phase

313.            Introduction

St. Ignatius presented two sets of “rules” in the appendix of his book to help understand the psycho-spiritual reactions of the exercitant and to deal with them during the the Exercises. The guidelines we present here are the Ignatian rules somewhat adapted to modern language where the original text requires interpretation. The first set of guidelines is more suitable for the First Phase [313-327], while the second set is appropriate for the Second Phase [328-336]. St. Ignatius did not give special rules neither for the Third nor the Fourth Phases, but according to the character of the situation in which the companions find themselves they need to apply the guidelines already learned. Besides this, the “Notes Concerning Scruples” [345-351] might be connected with the Third Phase and the “Guidelines for the Right Attitude toward the Church or Sense of Church” [352-370] with the Fourth Phase [1]. One of the main goals of the Exercises process is to learn discernment and once the companions become familiar with discernment during the Exercises they will find it necessary and useful to live a discerning life in the aftermath.

Before discussing the individual guidelines we need to put forward a series of definitions and clarifications. (1) In the expression “discernment of the spirits”,  the word “spirits” refer to various interior movements spontaneously occurring in the affectivity of a person and it does not mean necessarily angels or devils, although preternatural forces might be behind the psychological events. St. Ignatius in a simple way says that the inspirations or “spirits” are or from God or from the devil, while we distinguish here a third source that is our own self, our human reality. Moreover, our self can be in different dispositions toward good and our thoughts and sentiments are always in interaction with various spiritual influences [2]. Independently of what we think of the sources, the common characteristic of these interior movements is a passive quality, as they seem to “invade” us. The crucial task is to recognize the presence of these interior movements and even if one does not believe in preternatural forces one can successfully use the method of discernment [3]. Keeping in mind this distinction, we will continue to use the personified language and speaking of the action of various “spirits” [4].

(2) “Discernment” is the technical term for dealing with these often-conflicting and ambiguous movements, “sorting them out” and distinguishing which of these moves us toward God and which pushes us further from him. We need to learn which impulses are for our good and which are (on the long run at least) harmful in order to actualize in specific concrete situations the general principles of human (or specifically Christian) life. Discernment was always an important part of Christian spirituality; Ignatius’ great contribution to it was to give a practical method for individual and for communal discernment [5].

(3) The discernment of the spirits (or spiritual discernment) serves not only to distinguish interior movements during prayer but it is also prompted by the needs of our life and so it is essential for finding our way. It is evident during the Exercises in the everyday life form where everything becomes “exercise” and we are in constant contact with concrete situations requiring decisions and alternating interior movements [6].

Discernment provides a means to use for everyone and not only for specialists in spirituality [7]. St. Ignatius himself was at the beginning of his conversion quite ignorant of theology and spiritual life, laying wounded after the battle at Pamplona when began to discover certain “patterns” in his feelings. When daydreaming about himself as a famous knight fighting gloriously, his joy vanished after returning to reality and a certain sadness arose instead. On the contrary, when he phantasized about following the example of saints (whose life he read only because his usual romances about knights were not available there) and imagined himself doing great things for Christ, his joy remained with him. So he began to discern the first desire as coming from the devil, the other from God and this experience became the very heart of the Spiritual Exercises [8].

(4) Discernment is based on the conviction that God is personally interested in our good and involved actively in our lives. We know for sure that the “will of God” is that we make good decisions and choices. With the help of discernment we collaborate with God who wants that we choose what is good but respects our free will and permits us to decide to choose whatever we want. After this observation we can speak of discernment as seeking the will of God in concrete situations [9]. (5) In the discernment of the spirits we utilize the same faculty of imagination and pay similarly special attention to arising emotions as in the contemplations of the Exercises where the affective involvement gives us deeper “experiential” knowledge of the contemplated mysteries [10]. (6) During the Exercises we learn the discernment as St. Ignatius puts it “to some extent” [213] in order to become discerning persons and discerning couples throughout the rest of our lives. Discernment does not mean arriving to a complete and absolute certitude but there remains there in it the possibility of error; hence the necessity for constant openness to further inspirations [11]. Discernment is not just fruit of our efforts but it is a gift from the Holy Spirit [12] for which we ought to pray constantly even as we learn to use these guidelines. (7) We will present the original guidelines of St. Ignatius grouped according to an outline based on their structure for better understanding [13].

314-315.            Our fundamental option

The first, basic discernment is to recognize our fundamental orientation regarding God and mankind. It is understandable that if the influence of the spirit goes along with our basic orientation then the effect will be smoother, causing less friction since it is compatible with our inclinations. If we generally do not try to seek God, justice and honesty, then disturbing pangs of conscience will come from the Holy Spirit while rationalization and a deceptive peace (we might call it also pseudo-consolation) from ourselves or from the evil spirit. On the contrary, if we are ordinarily trying at least to seek God, justice and honesty then gentleness will mark the inspirations coming from the Holy Spirit, while disturbing anxiety and doubts will derive from our resistance or from a direct temptation of the evil spirit [14]. This does not mean that we don’t have sins or don’t resist God’s inspirations but that our basic option is for good. All the following guidelines are addressing the second category of people (only in [335] will we return to discuss again this fundamental difference). We are optimistic that most people are in this category and even if one cannot state with absolute certainty what is our fundamental option, one might hope at least that he or she is searching what is good.

To distinguish between the interior movements or spirits we should see the fruits of them as listed by St. Paul in Gal 5:19-25 [15]. This is criterion for discernment that can be found in the saying of Jesus about the trees and their fruits regarding the recognition of the true prophets from the false ones (Mt 7:16-18). In discernment we aim at understanding the origin of the spirits from their fruits; that is, from the orientation towards which they move us. With other words, discernment is the “testing of the spirits” (cf. 1 Jn 4:1-6) whether they come from God or not. Once we learn the origin of the interior movements we can choose the good ones and reject the bad ones.

Since the discernment of the spirits uses as raw material our feelings, we should remain constantly in touch with the interior movements of affectivity. Discernment means that we learn to distinguish between feelings of normal sensitivity depending on our psychology and on the entirety of daily activities and feelings that are connected with our faith. Feelings of faith flourish during the Exercises in everyday life since our perception as a gift of the Holy Spirit becomes sharper to discover the presence of God and focus on it in the reality of actual living and not only just in prayer. Thanks to this experience we understand that God’s action in us is not independent from our psychological reality but everything is “psychological” and “spiritual” in the same time [16].

To use the expression of Origen who first developed a doctrine of the discernment of spirits, the various spirits move us “in principale cordis nostrae”, “at the bottom of our heart” [17]. When we make discernment we listen to these depths and not to the more superficial levels of affectivity. In the practice of “Daily Examination of Consciousness” [24-44] we not only become aware of these interior movements but also have a tool to resist the ones taking us further from God where we are most vulnerable. This is of the greatest importance, since the evil spirit will attack us most forcefully where our weakest points are (see [327]).

316-317.            Consolation and Desolation

Consolation is a positive experience of joy and peace and is the same fruit of the Spirit described by St. Paul (Gal 5:22-23), and promised by Jesus (Jn 15:11 and Jn 14:27). This spiritual joy and peace is not just a good feeling arising from pious thoughts of self-satisfaction, but it is oriented toward God and the good of humanity; as St. Ignatius says in his Autograph Directory consolation is “every interior movement that leaves the soul consoled in the Lord” [18]. Since joy and happiness stems from the union with the beloved, spiritual consolation is basically identical with the union with God. Consolation is a grace of the indwelling Trinity, of the Consoler Spirit and is experienced in the measure of our love for God and others [19]. Accordingly, St. Ignatius in his definition distinguishes three levels of consolation. The highest level is a profound communion with God that occurs in the depths of the spirit – at the bottom of the heart – that is “inflamed with the love” for God and for his sake and in him loves all his creatures. The next level is a genuine gift of tears caused by sorrow of compassion or by joy because of true love and desire to serve God. The basic level of consolation is “every increase in faith, hope and love”, since these three virtues unite us with God. This last is the foundation of the other levels, too.

Very different things can evoke consolation, but the common character of these is that they are bringing us closer to God. Consolation does not exclude the presence of suffering and trials but on the contrary the crosses embraced with love are cause of true consolation [20]. In the language of logotherapy, we find meaning not only in the creative and experiential values but most importantly in realizing attitudinal values; that is that human life can be fulfilled also in suffering [21].

Desolation by the definition of St. Ignatius is just the opposite of what was said of consolation, it is “from the evil spirit and his gifts, such as war against peace, sadness against spiritual joy… wandering of the mind in base things against lifting up the mind” [22]; it is a disturbing, complex negative experience. Desolation is not just feeling somewhat down or depressed but always marked by the loss of faith, hope, love and inner peace at the bottom of heart. The negative feelings of desolation and the “thoughts”[23] inspired by them are always temptations. Even if it was not caused by direct influence of the evil spirit but produced by our own human reality, Satan exploits this situation for discouraging us from perseverance and turning us away from God.

Discernment uses these affective experiences as raw material for making an intellectual judgment and arriving to a decision to act according to this conclusion in the future. Thus the process of discernment involves the entire person, affectivity, intellect and will. It involves also the entire dynamics of human and social relationships even in personal discernment but most evidently in the case of communal discernment (as when a couple or a group discerns together). In this sense we might speak of existential discernment, touching the whole existence and the entire spectrum of human life. In a retreat in everyday life the alternations of consolations and desolations are colored by the influence of the events that go on constantly. For example in the middle of consolation negative feelings can appear due to circumstances, but these become desolation only if recognized as movement away from God [24].

318-327.            How to deal with desolation?

The first set of the guidelines are dealing mostly with the case of desolation since the First Phase is a time of beginning and conversion when the companions might feel overburdened and normally are tempted mainly by discouragement, fear, doubt and anxiety. This situation of desolations is characteristic of other “beginnings” or turning points in life, when these guidelines should be applied in the discernment process [25]. Since desolation will require steadfastness against the temptations these guidelines notwithstanding the different situation could be applicable also in the Third Phase [26].

These guidelines teach to recognize consolation and desolation, to resist temptations and to grow spiritually through this experience. They have a clear pedagogical function in the Exercises preparing the companions to approach the decision phase when they will use the second, more sophisticated set of guidelines [328-336] [27].

318. Never make any change when in desolation

Desolation never comes from God (since we should keep in mind that these guidelines are for people with a fundamental option for good, cf. [313-314]), and so the thoughts that arise from such experience will not lead toward him). It makes understandable that the most important guideline is the warning against decisions while in desolation [28].

Desolation is a situation like that of a sailboat that got in dense fog on the open waters when it is not wise to change direction. In the desolation our guide is not the Holy Spirit, but the evil spirit directly or indirectly through our weakness and confusion. Any change of former decisions that were made under the guidance of the Holy Spirit could be harmful, as it would be inspired by false arguments. The companions must be able to hold on to former resolutions with faith even if this is the time when people generally are most compelled to make changes. The spontaneous reaction is to try to get rid of the desolation, to end this negative experience by some change, but we need to wait until we are out of the fog, until consolation returns to make new decisions. The thought that consolation will return, that our situation will not remain the same forever, is a real source of strength that helps to persevere in hard times without hasted steps.

319-321. Work against the desolation

St. Ignatius’ advice is to work actively against (“agere contra” in [16]) the loss of faith, hope and love involved in desolation, to do just the opposite what it suggest. It means maybe to desire strongly what in desolation seems to be disagreeable [29]. During the Exercises desolation might take the form of temptation to shorten prayer sessions, skip the examination of conscience, or to abandon all the entire retreat project. Prayer might seem as useless waste of time because one feels a hopeless case or because there are so many urgent things to do. The answer is invariably to resist these temptations with perseverance; we might insist “more” on prayer (note that the stress is not on “more prayer”, but “more on prayer”) or find a “suitable” way of penance. This advice goes back to the Scriptures stating that “prayer and fasting” has the force of exorcism (Mk 9:29). Prayer and penance were always considered by the tradition as powerful weapons in a spiritual life seen as struggle against the devil [30]. The stress is on “suitable” penance, something that works against the particular desolation. If we are tempted to shorten the prayer, we should add one extra minute to it and if we experience desolation in the form of restlessness, the right penance might be to seek rest and relaxation.

When we are in desolation, recalling some insights might be helpful in coping with it. As St Ignatius says in [320] we should reflect upon that even if God never causes desolation, he permits it as a “testing” in order to try us and help us to grow spiritually while we resist the various temptations ([322] has more about what this “testing” means). With strong faith we should believe that God’s grace is present in the bottom of our heart, he never abandons us even if we don’t “feel” his presence and help. That God gives us always “sufficient grace for eternal salvation” (cf. [320]) is an article of faith that we might be tempted to doubt during desolation, and as we should act against the temptations in the same way we should cultivate thoughts of faith and hope to contradict desolate thinking [31].

St. Ignatius in [321] summarizes what was said about the right attitude toward desolations: (1) we must be patient (2) work against the inspirations arising from the desolation, persevere in prayer, even make penance and examination of ourselves (3) while we should remember that consolation will return surely. In this way we will be able to draw something positive out also of this negative experience.

322. Seek the cause of the desolation

Besides holding on to our former decisions and working against the desolation it is helpful to try to seek why we get into it. We should pray for understanding the causes of desolation and see why God had permitted it. Generally we are able to bear a suffering better if we can find a reason for it and it is true also for the desolation. If we look back to the last time when we were in consolation we might find out what had led to desolation in that time [32]. In this way we might discover a certain pattern in our desolations and this understanding might even lead to consolation. It can happen that we experience enough peace in the middle of suffering to see what we should do about it. This understanding is very important in our daily life that requires of us decisions almost constantly.

St. Ignatius distinguishes three main reasons why God allows desolation. (1) Examining ourselves regularly we can discover that it was caused by our own fault, negligence, tepidity and resistance to God’s grace [33]. (2) If we don’t find fault in our conduct, the desolation might be a “testing” or (3) a passive purification by God.

We can see that only one of the three possible causes go back to our own shortcomings. The desolation ensuing however should not be seen as a punishment from God, but as a warning sign to recognize our responsibility for it and try to amend. The other two cases might be called also “educative desolation”, trials similar to that of Job in the biblical story searching the answer for the suffering of the just. The Book of Job makes clear that Satan caused Job’s suffering, but he could not act without God’s allowing it. The biblical author says that God permitted this “testing” to prove the fidelity of Job for some mysterious reason. The book presents a speech of God (chapters 38-41) in which he points out that Job who has understood so little of the mysteries of the universe cannot presume to comprehend the ways of God dealing with him and think to be abandoned. The meaning of the suffering of Job is beyond his comprehension and so the book ends with a call to trust toward God [34]. This conclusion recalls the way how logotherapy recognizes that the answer to the question of the final meaning of life and suffering goes beyond comprehension to a higher than human dimension to the realm of the so-called supra-meaning [35].

The “testing” mentioned by St. Ignatius’ as second reason might be recognized as an experience when God wants that we show fidelity in his service even when no sensible joy comes with it and that we seek him for himself not for the consolations. This experience can be paralleled with the “night of the senses” of St. John of the Cross. We can use also the analogy of the bond of marriage that is promised “for better or worse” to explain why God permits this “testing”. The bond of the couple grows by passing the periods of “worse” as they learn to love each other unselfishly, with a proven and stronger bond of love. Similarly, desolations are times of “worse” in which our love toward God can be strengthened [36].

The third case is a very deep desolation distinguished by the surrender to God without whom we are nothing and accompanied by the insight that everything is grace. This is an emptying out of ourselves, an experience of spiritual poverty as we realize that there is no technique by which we can produce grace and experience of God. This surrender to the gratuity of God’s love is comparable to the “night of the spirit” described by St. John of the Cross [37].

Both of these experiences can be sources of greater union with God. We think that these types of desolation might be more characteristic of the Third Phase of the Exercises when - as we told in the introduction to it - the companions might experience a lesser or greater degree of distress and desolation. The response we should give to the second and third type of desolation is similar, we should persevere in good and trust in God patiently until consolation returns.

323-324. When in consolation prepare for desolation

We never remain in the same psycho-spiritual state but consolations and desolations alternate in all our life. The constant tension between suffering and joy has a deep meaning as our participation in the paschal mystery of passion and resurrection. On our way of union with Christ we go along the spiral of spiritual growth and healing that although slowly rising to higher levels, covers repeatedly the same terrain, signaling periods of desolation and consolation [38].

In times of desolation it is consoling to remember that peace and joy will return and on the other hand, when in consolation we should remind ourselves that desolation would come again and prepare ourselves to face it. During consolation [39] we can look back with peace at the pattern of how usually we get into desolation and draw a plan to stop the process. For example, a typical pattern is to go from guilt to anger and then to depression, but if we have a plan we might remedy it and the next time will not go all the way into desolation. This plan is analogous with the “suitable penance” of [319], and it means that we try to find a way to heal exactly where we are wounded psycho-spiritually. To draw such a plan requires reflection, self-knowledge and the active use of phantasy to picture how we enter usually in desolation and imagine how we will deal with it actually in the future [40].

For married couples it is extremely important to learn for example what is the pattern of their conflicts. When they both enjoy consolation is a time when they can face the pattern of the usual course of events that brings them to conflicts without entering actually into a fight about the matter discussed. The companions can arrange a “feedback session” like that one presented in the Fourth Exercise of the First Phase [64] and mentioned again in the Second Phase [135] (“Introduction to the consideration of different states of life”) with particular attention given to the pattern of their common desolations. Sometimes a little change in attitude is enough to change the course of events.

Further, in time of consolation it is necessary to remember that it is entirely a gift from God and that it is not something we should selfishly appropriate to ourselves. During consolation we should guard ourselves from spiritual pride; instead, we should be humbled by the thought how little we could do against desolation without the help of God.

On the other hand we should not forget that God is with us also in times of desolation and always gives enough grace to overcome every difficulty; if nothing else remains still we have freedom to choose the attitude with which we face the situation. We should find strength not in ourselves but in our “Creator and Lord” [234] and learn humility, which is the truth of our weakness and of the goodness of God. The most beautiful expression of humility in time of great consolation is the “Magnificat” of Mary (Lk 1:46-55). In consolation we should pray for the gift of a similar humility to avoid exalting ourselves in good times, as we should recall the graces of God to not loose hope in desolation and so seek always to balance ourselves.

325-327. How desolation works?

We saw earlier in [322] that understanding the causes of desolation helps to deal with it; if it was for own fault we can confess and make remedy. If we know that God permitted it for our growth we can submit ourselves patiently and trustfully. We know however that the evil spirit’s goal is in causing directly or using indirectly our desolations. St. Ignatius who himself suffered from the deceits of Satan so much to be tempted to commit suicide illustrates with three powerful analogies how treacherous is the activity of this “enemy of mankind” [41]. The images although bearing the marks of the culture and time of their author, bring an important lesson in order to help to recognize the character of the tactics of the evil spirit.

First St. Ignatius compares the devil’s attack to that one of an angry woman [325]. This image seems strange and sounds sexist to us, but the point of what it wants to say is that the evil spirit is powerless and weak (like a woman would be against a man and mostly were she in the society of St. Ignatius). As a weakling before strength he will rely on threats, and seductive and scary and manipulative tactics to torture the person who does not stop him with determination. The evil spirit is powerless in front of the grace of God and he becomes a tyrant only if one gives him foothold through ignorance, fear and useless anxiety by which “men enter the realm of a chained dog” (using St. Augustine’s expression) [42]. The lesson is that if we act with determination, trusting in the power of God and in the name of Jesus then the evil spirit will fall back on flight, the desolation will cease.

The second image St. Ignatius presents, he took from the court life he knew well. He says that the devil acts like a false lover who tries to seduce a lady with empty promises and asks for secrecy to keep his solicitations hidden from the father or husband [326]. It means that the desolation sometimes comes with the temptation to hide these interior movements from our spouse or companion, friends and spiritual advisors for fear that they might not understand. When we are alone with the desolation, the situation gets worse. As the evil spirit wants us to keep his inspirations secret, the right attitude is to work with openness against this desire of secrecy. This advice is an application of the “working against” principle in [319]. Sometimes already the decision to reveal our psycho-spiritual experiences brings peace and relief. Sharing this situation with someone will require humility that opens us for the grace of seeing the tactics of the devil and resist his inspirations. Moreover, asking advice from experienced people when we are in anxiety and disturbance is a sign of the virtue of prudence [43].

The last image St. Ignatius took from his military experience, and he compares the devil’s tactic to that one of an army commander who before attacking a fortified stronghold explores the defenses and chooses the weakest point for the assault [327]. The evil sprit will choose for attack our weakest areas where we are most vulnerable for desolation. This is an insight that goes back to Scripture (see Eph 6:10-20) St. Anthony of the Desert and other masters in the tradition of spirituality [44]. The advice is clear: we need to work against this tactic. We need to identify these areas for example through the constant practice of the “Daily Examination of Consciousness” [24-44] then we can ask for healing from God and also be ready to resist the psycho-spiritual movements away from God where we know ourselves to be most weak and wounded.


These guidelines apply to the First Phase of the Exercises when the companions deepen their knowledge of God and of themselves both as individuals and as a couple, and realize more acutely the necessity to be redeemed. However, these guidelines and in a special way the last three describing the general tactics of the evil spirit remain with them throughout the entire Exercises process. This is particularly true in the everyday life form where the discernment process is applied to questions arising from the concrete and ongoing reality of living [45].

The companions need to keep these guidelines of discernment for the aftermath of the Exercises, mostly for periods when they need to return to the basics and renew their spiritual life. As they go through repeatedly the discernment process it is useful to keep a diary in order to see their accumulated experiences and later be able to draw from this rich source of learning [46].

328-336.    Guidelines for Discernment for the Second Phase

328            Introduction

St. Ignatius says of the second set of guidelines that these are for “a more accurate discernment” and more suitable for the Second Phase. While in the First Phase temptations were typically desolations, as the companions now proceed in the Exercises they are tempted “under appearance of good” [10], in the form of consolations. It happens because once the companions learned how to deal with desolations the devil changes tactics, disguises himself and produces false consolations in order to lead them away from God [47]. However, desolations will happen also later in life, mostly when the companions face new challenges, and the evil spirit tries to find vulnerable points to tests the limits of their perseverance and commitment. With desolations or with false consolations the evil spirit will try to bring the companions under his “Standard”, to accept his value-system and settle down in mediocrity or worse, and so he could block their growth toward God [48]. The great meditation on the “Two Standards” [136-148] provides an illustration to the set of guidelines for discernment for the Second Phase since it presents in a powerful way this strategy of the evil spirit [49]. Because of the possibility of false or pseudo consolation these guidelines will serve to discern false consolations from the genuine inspirations of God. These guidelines are useful not just in the context of the Exercises, but later as life constantly demands decisions from the companions (most often in the form of choosing from several “good” alternatives) and they will need to use careful discernment in order to avoid deceptions stemming from their own human weakness or directly from the evil spirit.

329.            Characteristic ways of acting of good and evil spirits

St. Ignatius says that “God and his angels” [50] give always consolation, “true happiness and spiritual joy” and cast out any disturbance and sadness caused by the evil spirit. On the contrary the evil spirit tries to disturb such consolation by false reasons and subtleties deceptions. This guideline presents something similar to the basic characterization of the spirits in the first set of guidelines (cf. [314-315]), with two differences to note. First, this guideline already addresses people who have the fundamental option toward good and so there is no mention of the stings of conscience from the Holy Spirit. In persons on the illuminative way (where the Second Phase belongs) the indwelling Trinity works always through peace and joy, the fruits of the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal 5:22). Consequently anxiety, fear, doubt and disquietude are directly or indirectly from the evil spirit. We should note also that St. Ignatius added the word “true” to the description of consolation. God gives always true consolation and “spiritual joy”, a joy from the Holy Spirit, abiding in the depths of the human spirit. This “spiritual joy” is “at the bottom of the heart” at the center of our spirit, communicated by the Holy Spirit and even if it often overflows as sensible joy, it is not incompatible with suffering, instead it should remain with us during the trials of our life [51].

This guideline warns us that caution is necessary as we experience consolation. Desolation is always from the evil spirit but, since the devil will use the tactic of deception by emulating the action of the Holy Spirit, some ‘consolations’ mimic the real thing. The evil spirit can produce enthusiasm for great projects, deep insights, religious fervor, miracles, healings, visions and locutions in order to derail us from our way. The goal of discernment consequently is to distinguish the true consolations of the Holy Spirit from the false ‘consolations’ of the evil spirit. St. Ignatius assures us that we are able to do this discernment with the help of these guidelines since the devil’s imitations of the true consolations never can be perfect and the “serpent’s tail” under the shiny garments of an angel will betray him in all of his works of forgery [52]. In discernment always we need to see the orientation of the experience if it brings us closer to God or on the contrary will it lead us away from him? In this phase the art of discernment involves the recognition of subtle differences in the course of the experience, as we will see later.

330.                   Consolation without previous cause

Sometimes we are in a certain sense prepared to receive consolation, maybe we are in an extended period of quiet and satisfying prayer or similar. It can happen however that the consolation cannot be explained by our acts or the circumstances are not supporting such experience or even the conditions are by every means against our having peace and joy. St. Ignatius calls this consolation without “previous cause” that is without a known interior or exterior explanation to it. This type of consolation can be only from God, since only the Creator can communicate immediately with our spirit. The evil spirit cannot counterfeit this experience, since as a creature he has no ability to act on our spirit without the mediation of other created beings, as for example a loving person, nature or the Scriptures.

In a sense, every true consolation is without cause, since as a grace it is always a free gift of God that we cannot produce with our will or with any “technique”. Nevertheless, on the practical level the consolation without previous cause has a distinct character of a unique peace, it is always a passive experience of being gifted, it is felt as immediacy, gratuitous and accompanied by the perception of a mysterious but real presence of Another [53]. In the case of a consolation without previous cause discernment means to identify this self-validating experience. We need to examine the experience in the context of our life in order to be able to identify it as a special consolation without previous cause. In the Second Phase the first method of decision, the “revelation” or “breakthrough of the Spirit” [175] presents an experience similar to the consolation without previous cause [54]. St. Ignatius confirms (surely on the base of his own experience) that this type of consolation exists and in our opinion it is more frequent than one first thinks [55]. Karl Rahner retained that this unique experience is in fact the core of the Exercises, drawing much attention to it in the literature on discernment [56]. Consolation without previous cause is a direct experience of the gratuity of God’s love toward us that evokes the response of our love and this dialog is what the dynamics of the Exercises process aims at.

John English says that the consolation without previous cause is “an experience of the presence of God that takes over our whole person. I describe this experience as the confluence of two things: a passive experience of the unconditional love of God and an active experience of unconditional response to this love. Such a Consolation is self-authenticating and cannot be doubted” [57]. This type of consolation has something of the “falling in love” experience with its unexplainable and self-evident character. There is something mysterious or divine in the moment when a couple recognizes in each other that they met the “right” person for them; this is an overwhelming experience that evokes profound gratitude, joy and humility for being gifted with a companion similar to the consolation of God. For some people their moment of conversion or their “call” for a particular vocation was experienced this way as a profound self-evident consolation. It can happens when somebody is busy doing laundry, preparing dinner, overwhelmed by phone calls and other duties that require care, does not even think of God but suddenly perceives a deep sense of his loving presence, a “kiss of God” and responds with gratitude and joy. The companions may be able to find examples in their experience.

We want to mention here St. Therese of Lisieux who at the end of her life amidst the most painful and hardest sufferings, dying of tuberculosis at the age of 24 in a time when there was no cure for this disease and passing through a log dark night of doubts and temptations against her faith in God arrived to say “I do not regret having surrendered myself to Love” and died with the words “My God, I love Thee!”[58]

For another expression of consolation in adverse situation let us refer to the short exhortation of St. Francis of Assisi “on the true and perfect happiness”. He describes that true gladness is not in the growth of his order or the in the wonders the friars can accomplish, but if he would return home barefooted at night in wintertime, bleeding from the icy roads and hungry, moreover as he knocks for a long time at the door, the brothers call him an idiot then chase him away, and if he “will have had patience and will not have been disturbed, that in this is true gladness and true virtue and soundness of soul” [59]. Seems like that St. Francis spoke of experience.

The consolation without previous cause is the presence of the Holy Spirit made possible to experience also affectively. Even if this consolation is surely from God and “there cannot be deception in it” [336] we need to be careful with the period that immediately follows such experience. This time is often called “afterglow”, when the experience of the Holy Spirit already is passed but the peace and joy of it still endures for a while and even remains very deep. This is a vulnerable time when the evil spirit already can influence our reactions, thoughts and feeling. First of all we need to distinguish the actual consolation from its afterglow and then the inspirations received during this time need to be discerned carefully since these are already “caused” consolations. We will discuss this case in [336].

331-335. Consolation with previous cause

The following guidelines address the other type of consolation, when there is a known “cause”, that is the events, circumstances or our own actions support the grace. Most of our consolations are such mediated experiences and especially all the meditations and contemplations of the Exercises rely on the use of our phantasy, intellect and will in order to find our way with God.

331-332. Be very aware and cautious with consolations with previous cause.

When there is a previous cause, the consolation from it can come from God as well as from the evil spirit and it needs to be discerned carefully (as we saw it already in [329]). We don’t need to question if the consolation is of supernatural character or given through our natural faculties; the task of the discernment is to see what is the source of the consolation, if it is God who speaks to us through the experience or not [60].

Both the Holy Spirit and the evil spirit can be the source of such consolation, but as St. Ignatius says “for a quite different purpose” [331]. While the Holy Spirit uses consolation for our progress in good, to bring us closer to God, the evil spirit gives false consolations in order to lead us imperceptibly away from God, from good to false ways. The “good feeling” of “being up” and filled with enthusiasm is not enough to recognize the action of God in the consolation. The underlying principle of all discernment is stated here: both the good and the evil spirits adapt themselves to the persons they try to influence but with contrary purposes [61]. The basic guideline corresponding to this principle is to be cautious and to examine all the elements of the consolation with previous cause and to detect the orientation of the entire experience, if it helps us toward God or brings us away from him.

St. Ignatius says that the evil spirit used “to assume the appearance of an angel of light” [332] in order to trick us into following his own designs. The expression is from St. Paul who said “…Satan masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14). The reason for this masquerade is that if we are people with a basic orientation toward good we will not be tempted by what is obviously bad and if we had already learned to recognize him in discouragements and fears he needs to choose new tactics and tempt us “under appearance of good” [10] using our same desire for good to derail us [62]. He knows our weak points where we are vulnerable for deception; interestingly often these will be the points that we think we are good at the most. The evil spirit tries to allure us to bring what is good just a bit “too far”. St. Ignatius himself experienced these false enthusiasms early in his conversion, and the excesses in penances and fasting brought him in consequence suffering from stomach problems for his entire life.

Going too far in doing good things is always destructive. If one loves to pray, the evil spirit will “inspire” him or her to pray too much, maybe thinking to be better than others and in the meantime neglecting necessary duties, shorten his or her time for rest, so that after a while this person ends up exhausted, bitter and disappointed. The companions surely can find similar examples from their experiences. In this way helpful people become possessive and restless until they collapse, the perfectionist begins to be intolerant with others and the person who loves and seeks justice will be overworked and overtly judgmental with bitter resentments. Church people can fight with great rancor and rage about what is the right way to conduct liturgy, how to use their resources and so on. Sad examples from history like the Crusades show how “holy” intentions can bring to horrendous results even on the scale of entire societies.

Again, the basic guideline in recognizing the false consolation is to see its orientation. No matter how “holy”, good and noble is the inspiration emerging in our desires, if it brings us toward evil or just toward what is less good than what we had before, or if it causes us to be too tired, weakened and lose our inner peace we enjoyed at the beginning of the consolation, it should be suspected to be a temptation. The discernment on such consolation is to examine what would be the final result, the “fruit” of this inspiration. Because the devil presents itself as an “angel of light” we should be aware, very careful and before following an inspiration we need to verify if it leads toward God or away from him, if it brings us to humility or to pride [63].

333-334. How to discern a consolation with previous cause?

In the following two guidelines St. Ignatius describes more in detail the way to discern this type of consolation. First of all, we should always look at “the whole course of thoughts” and if we find that “the beginning, the middle and end” of the experience is all wholly good then it is from God [333]. If in any of the phases it has something dissonant or disharmonious, something of the “tail of serpent” betraying the presence of the evil spirit, we should mistrust the entire experience and should not follow the inspirations coming of it. The “beginning” might be a desire to do something that is good in itself but goes against the context of our life, for example if a mother of five decides to pray five hours a day, or if a husband goes out at nights for very important and holy meetings and similar inspirations that go against the obligations of the one’s state of life. The “middle” refers to the actual time of the consolation when the accompanying feelings might unveil pride and thoughts speak of self-centeredness, self-satisfaction in how good we are. One sign of a consolation that is not fully from the Holy Spirit is if we feel irritated if interrupted in it by a request. This will happen often and it does not mean necessarily that we are hypocritical, only a reminder that we are susceptible and far from perfect. The important thing is to be careful to not follow an inspiration that comes with a negative tone in our feelings. Finally, the “end” where the consolation leads us as we told above might be something outright bad or just less good, or distracting us from our goal, or weakening and upsetting and so disqualifying the entire experience. Such upsetting experience can be making hastened resolutions after a good prayer on things that are beyond our capabilities, like to promise not to become angry anymore with someone. Not only that such promises will end in frustration and discouragement but the desire of an unreachable goal also renders us constantly dissatisfied with our real life [64]. It might happen that we decide hastily without careful examination to join a group or movement because we had a good experience with them, but it ends up with a nightmarish life of which it is maybe hard to get out because the strong first commitment. Another example might be that we begin to feel love and solidarity for the poor and want to go to serve them fist handed in far away lands, but not all of us is adapt for this direct service and we can end up with discouragement. There are different ways to help the poor, maybe locally to work with the homeless, at a soup kitchen, or helping organizations that support such services financially and similar.

This guideline can be summarized also in the maxim that “the end does not justify the means”. To use bad means in order of something good is an example of the kind of temptation we are discerning here. Our desire to achieve something good might lead us to harmful and evil ways so that the means might disqualify the end that seemed noble at the beginning. We cannot wage wars to achieve peace or commit injustice for the sake of justice. Also the inner attitude with which we work for a noble cause could render the whole project vain; if we become violent or self-righteous or despise others while doing great things with real sacrifices, that shows that we are using wrong means to the good end.

In the next guideline St. Ignatius advises us to “review immediately the whole course” of an experience in which we discovered the “serpent’s tail” [334]. Such experiences have educational value, as we observe the course of the consolation in retrospective we are able to recognize where the trouble began and learn of it. We should look at what was our original thought, what means we used, which attitude we had and where did it lead us. We need to become reflective and observant in order to learn the patterns that influence our decisions. This advice of Ignatius is reminiscent of the saying of Socrates that “the unexamined life is not worth living” and the principle of learning from our mistakes suggested in it is valid for every aspect of life [65]. In this work our invaluable help is the “Daily Examination of Consciousness” [24-44], which leads to deeper self-knowledge personally and as a couple if practiced faithfully [66]. The other invaluable means is to keep a diary, jotting down after the exercises or at the end of our days the interior movements we experienced. With the help of this practice the “enemy of our progress and eternal salvation” [333] becomes our teacher to help us to grow in responsibility and to discern better in the future.

These guidelines recall also the “Two Standards” [136-148] meditation, which presents these two conflicting value system that moves us individually and as a couple underlining the necessity to be clear which we choose carefully since the evil forces can attract us imperceptibly under their “standard”. All this might seem very complex and even discouraging, but with time and patience we can advance in the art of discernment and it becomes integral part of our daily life.

335. Authentication of the discernment process.

From the end of a consolation we might discover that what seemed good at the beginning was a temptation [333] and from its progression we can learn how to discern better in the future [334]. St. Ignatius, after describing how we should examine the entire course of a consolation returns to the consideration of the beginning of such experience [67]. He says in this guideline that the action of good and evil spirits can be detected at the beginning of the caused consolation by the particular character of these interior movements. In a person whose fundamental option is for good the action of the Holy Spirit will be like “a drop of water penetrating a sponge” quiet, gentle, delicate and delightful; on the other hand, the evil spirit’s action will be like “a drop of water falling upon a stone” [335], characterized by a certain noise and disturbance [68]. Both images are of a drop of water but there is a subtle difference of nuance between the two actions. The discernment process in committed people is all about nuances and subtleties.

This guideline is based on the principle of compatibility of the particular spirit with the fundamental choice of a person; in consequence in a person whose fundamental option is not for the good but is “going from bad to worse” the action of the spirits will be the opposite. This remark brings us back to the basic distinction of [314] in the guidelines for the First Phase where it was said that the good spirit or conscience would disturb such person in order to shake him or her up from the deadly course of evil.

The essence of this guideline is that the action of the Holy Spirit has the hallmark of the peace (the third fruit in the list of Gal 5:22-23) of which it can be always discerned. In consequence, the presence of peace or the lack of it is one of the most important means of discernment [69]. Interior peace is in fact the Holy Spirit who has been given to us and in him there is no deception (cf. Rom 5:5); this peace is always the signature of God, a sign of his action in us. So we can say that the peace residing in the core of our spirit, “at the bottom of our heart” (or the lack of it) serves to authenticate or to confirm the outcome of our discernment process.

Of course, a married couple needs to engage in this process together and follow the course of the experience for both of them. If it is all the way good for both from the beginning to the end then they can follow an inspiration born of a particular consolation given to them (or at least to one of them, when the other companion actively helps to discern it). If the consolation gives a sudden enthusiasm of one spouse to begin a new project as for example to join a certain group but it leaves the other with disappointment, it is better to wait and see which course their feelings will take. The good of the marriage, the stability of their relationship should come before of everything else.

With time the companions learn to recognize and name their feelings and will be able to speak about them with each other. Any little step in this direction is helpful in the common discernment process and for their relationship in general. Also they will gradually understand their patterns of common consolations, they will be able to recognize when they have an accord of intent and both of them enjoys peace. There will be characteristic patterns of each in regard of the false consolations, too. These are normal part of life and a bit of humor might be helpful to deal with these moments. One of the most important means for this common learning process is the “Daily Examination of Consciousness” [24-44] done together [70].

336. The hermeneutic circle of discernment [71]

The consolation without previous cause as told in [330] is without doubt from the Holy Spirit and so it does not require further discernment, but as St. Ignatius warns us in this present guideline we should carefully distinguish the experience itself from the period that immediately follows it, from the “afterglow”. In this time we are extremely vulnerable for deception since sensible consolation still lasts but we are already under the influence of the various spirits and of our own reasoning. It is easy to arrive to the decision that God told us to do something although it was just our own thought or a pious deception from the evil spirit.

The distinction of the actual experience from its afterglow requires attentive reflection and the recognition of the dividing line where the peculiar passive and gifted character of the consolation without previous cause gives place to an experience of different quality. Thomas Green uses the analogy of a glider pulled by a jet to illustrate this dividing line. From the moment the jet releases the glider it will still cruise on high for a while depending on skill of its pilots and driven by the winds. It might seem to fly on its own power or still be pulled by the jet but in reality it will go because of the momentum received and exposed to the various currents of air [72]. As a scriptural example of the afterglow experience may think of the scene of the Transfiguration of Jesus (Lk 9:28-36). Right after seeing Jesus in his glory Peter still under the effect of the powerful experience begins to reason that it would be good to prolong it, to remain there on the mountain and he even proposes to build tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.

The afterglow is a period when one is particularly open for various influences and is driven to make hasted resolutions. The inspirations of God are realistic, reasonable and viable while resolutions made in the afterglow often are not realistic and have the mark of rushing ahead of our capabilities. We may discover also certain pattern in our enthusiastic exaggerations and this understanding will be helpful to avoid falling into this type of temptation. As an example of this type of resolution we can recall that Peter at the Last Supper under the influence of the strong experience promised enthusiastically to die with Jesus even after had been warned of the vulnerability of his faith and strength (cf. Mt 26:31-35).

St. Ignatius stresses that all inspirations and resolutions that we make in the time immediately after the consolation without previous cause should be carefully examined before accepting and trying to realize them. The inspirations of the afterglow period need to be discerned by the same guidelines as any other “caused” consolation as described in [332-335].

The consolation without previous cause itself does not need discernment, “there can be no deception in it” [336], since the hope given by the love of God poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit never disappoints (cf. Rom 5:5). The importance of this type of consolation is in the fact that it is given in the center or inner core of our being, “at the bottom of our heart”, where our conscience resides and it cannot be manipulated. This center of the person is the final “organ” of discernment, where the final judgment about any experience is spelled out.

We distinguish two types of consolation but these are intimately connected with each other in the discernment process. The consolation without previous cause is closely followed by the afterglow experience that should be discerned as a caused consolation. On the other hand when the consolation is clearly caused by internal or external factors, at the end we arrive to the authentication of our discernment and as we saw it in [335] this relies on the criterion of the interior peace “at the bottom of the heart”, on the infallible presence of the Holy Spirit in us. This reciprocal relationship of the two types of consolation and the movement by which they authenticate, confirm and explain each other might be called the hermeneutic circle of the discernment process.

The practice of the discernment of the spirit along this hermeneutic circle moving slowly ahead puts us in touch with the center of our being, with the presence of the indwelling Spirit in us. Our discernment is not only the result of our efforts but also and first of all is a gift of the Holy Spirit whom we should invoke to assist us. As we get in touch with our center, then we learn to live a discerning life, then discernment will become habitual. This discerning love is the same gift of communion with God and of “finding God in all things” presented in the “Contemplation to Attain the Love of God” [230-237] as the program for the rest of our life after the Exercises ended (the “Fifth Phase”). The most perfect icon of this gift of life in communion with God is the Virgin Mary who is called also “Immaculate Conception” meaning that in her everything is moved exclusively by the Holy Spirit in a degree that made the incarnation of God possible in her in a unique and unparalleled way. May she be our intercessor for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our discerning life!

337-344.    Guidelines to Deal with Material Goods

This set of guidelines is still connected with the Second Phase and belongs to the context of the decision making process described in “Arriving to a Decision” [169-189]. In the preceding “Guidelines for Discernment for the Second Phase” we dealt first with the consolation without previous cause ([330] and [336]), which is an experience related to the first method of decision or “revelation” [175], then we discussed the consolation with previous cause [331-335], which is connected with the second method of decision called also “discernment” [176]. The following guidelines logically enough will represent a concrete example of the third method of decision or “reasoning” [177-188] [73] and they will be very helpful always in the daily life of the companions.

The process of the Exercises leads toward the inner freedom toward all created things described in the “Principle and Foundation” [23] and this freedom translates on how we deal with material goods, including money, time and energy. In addition, during the Exercises we practice the discernment of the spirits so that it becomes habitual discerning and will extend to all areas even to our financial matters. The Exercises at different points touches the attitude toward material goods, riches and poverty [74] and now in this section St. Ignatius speaks of a “ministry of distributing alms” [337] that is of how to administer our various goods with generosity and balance. The first part deals with guidelines of our own resources [338-342] then we discuss some aspects of taking care of other people’s goods [343] and at the end give a general summary of the guidelines [344]

338-342. Our own goods

St. Ignatius begins with the problem of how to administer to persons to whom we are attached, like our friends and relatives [338] which is understandable since we certainly have more difficulty to be objective and fair toward them then with strangers. Married couples usually are involved with their various friends and families, with the in-laws, brothers, sisters and their children, and with their respective conflicts, which creates a pretty complicated situation. This complex net of relationships, our love and sometimes difficulties that we have with these persons makes it harder to see clearly how much of our money, time and energy we should spend on them.

The general guideline to deal with this problem is our love, and giving should be always motivated by our love of God and also love of these persons more because of him ([338], cf. [184]). This sounds like a quite abstract principle, but the next three guidelines ([339-341] corresponding to the three considerations supporting the decision in the third method in [185-187] [75]) clarify what it means to be motivated by the love of God instead of our bias in our giving. In this way we avoid to spend on our relatives and friends time and effort that otherwise would be necessary for other purposes, maybe simply for ourselves as a couple. The primary vocation of a married couple is to build their marriage and any help to their respective families should not jeopardize their commitment to each other or their common spiritual growth, the service of God and work in good projects. This guideline is an important application of the “Principle and Foundation” [23] on family ties. The basic law of human marriage is formulated in the book of Genesis: “…a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (Gn 2:24)[76]. We need to find a balance between this and the fourth commandment: “Honor your father and mother…” (Dt 5:16), taking in consideration also that Jesus placed this commandment in importance after the commitment to the Kingdom of God (Lk 14:26 ff). Our own vocation should come first and regulate also our family obligations (see also Mt 12:49).

339-341. Three considerations

The following guidelines will help us to take a certain distance from the problem and decide with more objectivity. First, the companions should imagine a person or still better a couple whom they don’t know personally but and for whom they wish the best in everything. The same advice the companions would give to these persons they should follow themselves, not more and not less ([339]; cf. [185]).

Next, the companions need to imagine the moment of their death and consider what norm they would wish to have followed in dealing with their resources. They need to act according to the same norm now so that they would be glad at the end ([340]; cf. [186].

As a last exercise the companions need to imagine themselves before God at the last judgment and consider carefully which behavior they would wish then they had in taking care of their goods. The behavior they would wish to have had they should adopt now ([341]; cf. [187]).

Summing up what is said until now, if the companions find out that they have bias toward somebody to whom they consider to give of their goods, money, time and energy, they need to wait and apply the precedent three guidelines to the question. They need to ponder their feelings until they see in conformity with these considerations that their action is objectively good [342]. This will mean also that their giving is motivated by the love of God and not by excessive attachments (cf. [338]).

343. Goods of others

The companions (or one of them) may be called sometimes in their life to work in an aid organization, a charity, as a trustee or providing similar service. This means to deal with the goods of other people, for example in a charity to receive and distribute money, clothing, food or labor. It is acceptable to use some of these resources in certain circumstances for the workers themselves. There exists however the temptation of excess   because of the access to these goods and to keep the best or too much for ourselves. Not even speaking of scandalous cases when people got rich by raising money for the poor there are signs if an organization stocks up goods instead of giving it away and trying to help the flow of goods. There are also some sad victims of such a temptation; it happened (in a case where John was involved personally) that a homeless person who has been hired to help out with other homeless, accumulated all sort of things he could in his room and areas he was responsible for so when he died it seemed like a warehouse and needed a great cleanup. Administering the goods of others in charity work will require moderation in the decision of what can go to the workers and what should go to the needy. In general, the right way of serving can be found by applying the three guidelines given before.

344. Summary

As a general norm St. Ignatius advises that in all matters of our household and our personal needs we should keep the expenses at the minimum possible, with an attitude of saving in everything. He adds that as we practice self-control (or we might call it also asceticism) in life our model should be “our great High Priest, model, and guide, Christ our Lord” [77].

The guidelines continue that this “same consideration applies to all stations in life, but attention must be given to adapting it to each one's condition and rank” [344]. Evidently, the “almsgiving” of a working family with children, or of a retired couple living on Social Security should be different from that of a CEO of a great company, or a little business owner, or a college student and so on. The difference could be enormous in resources, obligations and other conditions and it should be reflected in the way and amount of what each could give.

St. Ignatius says that the important thing is not to give away money, but to have some guideline set up for ourselves, a “policy of giving” we might call it. He distinguishes between donations to the poor and the church and the needs of one’s household and personal needs. The companions need to take in consideration these different elements in their policy. For example, we receive many letters with unsolicited requests for donations from religious and other organizations we don’t know and never contacted before. Our general policy is not to answer to requests from places we don’t know otherwise; we prefer to support initiatives we know from personal contact. To choose which organization to support, it might be helpful to get information how they are serving the poor and needy; it is better to give where we know the help goes directly to the poor or to someone who actually works with them.

345-351.     Notes Concerning Scruples

These notes are intended to help understanding and dealing with scruples. They may be read in connection be with the Third Phase [78] and they are certainly useful also outside of the context of the Exercises. First we will distinguish two types of scruples and the corresponding way to deal with them [346-348], then turn to the question of lax and delicate conscience [349-350], and finally touch the importance of spiritual freedom in religious matters [351].

346. False scruples

Often it happens that people are disturbed by what they call scruples but in fact they fell victims of an erroneous judgment, thinking something to be a sin that is not. St. Ignatius gives an example that can be understood in the culture of his time: he says one might step by chance “upon a cross formed by straws” (maybe decorating a pavement) and think to have sinned, although there is no sin involved. In our time one might think to have sinned by eating meat on a Friday of ordinary time although abstinence is no longer obligatory except in Lenten time, otherwise it is exchangeable with other forms of devotion or charity. Similarly, one may feel guilty for missing the Holy Mass on Sunday while traveling or sick notwithstanding that there is no sin in it.

The way out from false scruples is to find out the truth and reject the erroneous judgment. Maybe in our times people often fall in error the other way and don’t think to commit sin when they participate in destructive activities such as wasting resources, polluting the environment or when they serve injustice at least indirectly by working for projects that harm, abuse and exploit others (se also [350]).

A married couple might need to do research for the truth together. If one of the companions is in error the other should help him or her with patience and understanding to arrive to the truth.

347-348. Real scruples

Real scruples mean restlessness of a disturbed conscience where an awkward “doubting and not doubting” continues without end in sight. This conflict in our conscience between different authorities is a temptation. The more delicate is one’s conscience, the more susceptible the person will be to the agitation of inconsequential thoughts [79]. St. Ignatius himself had experience of scruples and accounts in his autobiography that after a general confession of his past life he was tormented with doubts of whether he made it well enough,  to the point that, “he was seized with a disgust of the life he was leading and had a desire to be done with it”. He adds that this temptation of ending his life “was our Lord’s way of awakening him as it were from sleep”, and saw clearly that the scruples were from the evil spirit. He decided with great clarity never to confess his past sins again and this finally freed him from those scruples [80].

While the false scruples simply need to be rejected in order to get free of them, the real ones are much more difficult to deal with. They might have however an educational value for those who go through them and learn from them while weighing the conflicting sides. This process bears similarity to the second method of decision [175-179] where the fluctuating consolations and desolations lead us through the discernment to better understanding [81]. The companions need to help each other with support and compassion in periods of scrupulosity since these can cause significant spiritual distress. For example, if one is too critical with oneself, continuously censoring, analyzing and correcting every action he or she tries to take, it can become a form of scrupulosity, in which case a spouse might be very helpful to move toward more spontaneity [82].

349-350.            Conscience and its education

The evil spirit is very clever to discover if our conscience is lax or delicate and will use this information to attack us accordingly [349]. Just as the last guideline on how desolation works [327] pointed out the devil will attack our weakest points. If one has a delicate conscience the evil spirit will seek to make him or her more excessively sensitive, he will encourage the analytical and perfectionist person mentioned before to be more reflective and anxious. Thus one who would not consent to real sin will see sin where there is none as in a passing thought; this person will be upset and disturbed constantly, but will think of oneself as very virtuous. On the contrary, if one has a lax, permissive conscience, the evil spirit will seek to reinforce this tendency, rendering one more and more shallow and unreflective. As St. Ignatius says, if such person was easygoing on some sin, they will be encouraged to be light on more and more serious ones, maybe thinking of it as a form of freedom or spontaneity. The devil will try to make virtue of the vice and in the same time press our virtues to the point of becoming vices to bring us further away from God.

The advice of Ignatius is to work against the evil spirit (cf. [319-321]), to “act in a manner contrary to that of the enemy” [350]. It means to seek self-knowledge and balance; if one is tempted toward laxity they should try to have a more delicate conscience and if one excesses in sensitivity, should firmly moderate himself or herself in order to find peace. Conscience is the ultimate forum where our responsibility and freedom governs our actions. It is extremely important to educate our conscience toward moderation and balance and to inform ourselves about the truth. To the education of the conscience belongs for example learning about the developments of theology, of our Church’s standpoint on contemporary questions and reflect upon them in a responsible manner. To return to the example mentioned above about the abstinence of meat on Lenten Fridays, it will be evident that eating a luxurious seafood dinner even if formally in the rule, in reality contradicts the spirit of it. Such formalism and narrow-mindedness is to restrict the question of right to life to the question of abortion without raising the necessity to just distribution of resources and eliminate wars - since one should know that poverty, lack of healthcare and armed conflicts take away so many lives in our world.

351.                   Freedom of conscience

This very important note on freedom of conscience is the heart of discernment and of Ignatian spirituality in general. It says to take the risk to live by our conscience, that we are free to follow our inspirations in everything except where it is explicitly forbidden ethically.

St. Ignatius speaks here to “devout” persons, that is to those who not only have the fundamental option for good but committed themselves to live it (cf. Kingdom meditation [91-99]) and been educated for a while in prayer and discernment like the companions who arrive to this point in the Exercises. If such person or couple “wishes to do something that is not contrary to the spirit of the Church [note that St. Ignatius says the “spirit” of the Church!] or the mind of superiors [for married couples it should be the consensus of the spouses] and that may be for the glory of God our Lord, there may come a thought or temptation from without not to say or to do it” [83]. The “temptation without” refers to our reasoning or to direct influence of the evil spirit. St. Ignatius says that we will experience various sorts of thoughts against what we decided “at the bottom of our heart” as a good thing to do or to say. These thoughts might argue that we are acting out of vainglory or for some other selfish or inadequate reason. If this happens we should pray “to our Creator and Lord” and if we see that our inspiration is in accord with the service of God or at least not opposed to it then we “should act directly against the temptation”.

This note already connects us to the following “Guidelines for the Right Attitude toward the Church or Sense of Church” [352-370] and the freedom it speaks of is far from any “blind obedience” or from the security found in doing only what one is explicitly told to do. This attitude is based on the trust in God who cares for us, who dwells in our hearts and wants that we use our faculties given by him to find our way. St. Ignatius says that we should take risks with our initiatives creatively and not just be playing safe under the cloak of “obedience”. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit of truth will set us free not that it will keep us safe (cf. Jn 8:32). Of course we need to inform and educate our conscience beforehand and also understand the amount of risk we can take responsibly. Our decisions are not absolutely sure but we should accept this fact, and if we know that our inspiration is good and not contrary to God then we should follow it. Even if we would make a mistake we can keep our peace since we cannot offend God by trying to please him. St. Ignatius advises us to answer the temptations with the words of St. Bernard: “I did not undertake this because of you, and I am not going to relinquish it because of you” [351].

352-370.    Guidelines for the Right Attitude toward the Church or Sense of Church

The title of this chapter derives from the expression of St. Ignatius “para el sentido verdadero” meaning “for true feeling, attitude” toward the Church. We use “attitude” and “sense”, because the usual English translation, “thinking with the Church” is sort of misleading, stressing only an intellectual adherence. The word “sentido” is a cognate of “sentir”, which is one of the key words in the vocabulary of St. Ignatius and it refers to a “felt-knowledge”, “love-knowledge” or knowing with the heart [84]. This “sentido” or sense of Church is more a way of existing than just thinking; it is an affective bond and personal love toward the human and historical community of the living Church. Of course it involves also an intellectual knowing of the Church, its history, its authentic teaching and its clearly defined position on various controversial issues, and so on. The attitude we are speaking of is not an adhesion against reason, but judging everything with a loving heart, taking positions with responsibility and sharing in the life of the Church, even in its problems, crises and vulnerabilities.

The time to read these guidelines is in the Fourth Phase during a period of consolation, when the dynamics of the Exercises brings the companions toward a love of the community of the Church. These considerations are extremely important in our times when serious challenges try our ecclesial mentality and relationship with the hierarchical Church and also because they are crucial for our individual discernment. The function of the sense of Church in finding what serves the entire community best is similar to the role of the feelings in the discernment of different spirits [85].

353. General principle of the sense of Church

The general principle St. Ignatius gives is that we should put aside our personal judgments and to hold ourselves (animo)[86] ready to obey the hierarchical Church. It means to take habitually the declared position of the Church and obey it whenever it is possible, defending it publicly although with respect toward the opposing side in controversial issues. This obedience to the Church and our intellectual integrity requires that we listen, pray and reflect seriously on the matters involved.

Obedience to the Church does not mean to pass over its sins and defects, but that we should seek constructive ways to deal with these problems while trying  to avoid being overtly critic about them in the public [87]. St. Ignatius calls the hierarchical Church “our holy Mother” and this may serve as an analogy for how to relate to the excesses of it. One sees well the defects of his or her mother and tries to help her by dealing with her difficulties, even by confronting her but defends her from the criticism of others [88]. We might say that this principle is about being in love with the Church, not about defending our personal position. The principle of obedience and that one of the freedom to follow our conscience given in [351] together will help us to find balance in our actions [89].

354-364. More guidelines on the attitude toward the Church

After this general principle St. Ignatius described some of characteristics of the sense of Church. We summarize in the followings these guidelines adapted somewhat for contemporary ecclesial situation [90]. (1) We should regard highly the sacraments of the Church, recommend them and receive the graces of healing and growth communicated in them, especially in the Blessed Sacrament and in the sacrament of reconciliation. (2) Besides the regular participation in the Eucharist we need to live a life of prayer by daily prayer time personally and as a couple. Other communal forms of devotion like prayer groups are also important means of participating in the life of the Church. (3) In the spirit of the Second Vatican Council it is necessary to have a positive attitude of appreciation toward all ecclesial vocations, like marriage, religious life, priesthood and so on, since all are given for the edification and service of the entire community. All vocations are modalities of the same call and one fundamental vocation to holiness of all Christians [91]. (4) We should be aware of the communion of saints, cultivate the friendship with those who successfully lived their life and preceded us to heaven. We should learn of their example, know their lives and writings which constitute such a rich source of education and we need to ask also their intercession for us. (5) In connection with the communion of saints we can mention also the Church’s “option for the poor” and its implications. Working for just distribution of goods, food, shelter, water, sanitation, education and healthcare, promoting peace and disarmament is an essential part of being Christian, not a secondary issue. As the gospel reveals (cf. Mt 25:31-46) at the judgment of God we will respond only on our concrete acts of love toward the needy and of nothing else. With this we don’t deny the importance of other aspects of ecclesial life since we need these for the education of our conscience, for our healing and growth in the Spirit. The “option for the poor” means also to become acquainted with the social teaching of the Church and make it our own. (6) In general, we should know and appreciate the declared position of the Church presented in the authoritative documents of the magisterium, especially the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and of the last popes on contemporary issues. A good sense of Church means to hold oneself (animo) ready to seek reasons to support these positions rather then for attacking them [361] [92]. (7) An informed and educated sense of Church and knowledge of at least basic contemporary theology will be helpful also to choose from the numerous movements, groups and activities of the Christian community according to our personal sensitivity and also to discern the authentic forms of devotion from the inauthentic or superstitious ones. (8) St. Ignatius mentions also the fasts and abstinences prescribed by the Church and visits to churches and similar, which are also worthy means of spiritual growth. (9) Finally we arrive to the question of how to relate to authority in the Church to which St. Ignatius dedicated the guidelines [362-364]. First he advises that we should treat people who have authority in the Church with a spontaneous tendency to be in favor of what they do or say rather than to be ready to criticize them hastily in public. St. Ignatius did not deny that sometimes they are to blame as their actions “may not have been praiseworthy” [362] (of this he had enough first-hand experience), but stresses that we should restrain ourselves from causing scandal by speaking against them publicly [93]. St. Ignatius says in a practical and realistic way that if we see wrongdoing in the authorities of the Church then we should search for constructive means to handle this, as “it may be profitable to discuss their bad conduct with those who can apply remedy” [362].

This attitude will require two things from us; first we need to reflect on our spontaneous tendency in speaking publicly and secondly, we need to study enough theology to be able to reflect on the issues involved in an educated manner. As adult Christians we need to raise our level of knowledge of faith at least to the level of our general education and remain interested in good contemporary theology, read biblical studies and historical works in order to be able to form a correct opinion of our own. We think here the study of the works of theologians in the stature of Karl Rahner in our times and of the achievements of modern biblical theology besides of the great contributions of the Second Vatican Council on how we understand of the Church, its relationship with the world and so on. St. Ignatius mentions the works of the fathers of the Church and the scholastic theologians and adds also the writings of saints, as worthy for praise and study [363] [94].

365-370. Controversies

In the last guidelines St. Ignatius refers to several concrete issues that were challenging the Church of his time, particularly the criticism of Erasmus and the spreading ideas of Luther. Of these issues the question of obedience to the authority of the Church [365] is still relevant today. We can see that St. Ignatius advises to be aware of the defects of the Church and do about them something not to accept everything blindly. He says in the ill-famed sentence, “What seems to me white, I will believe black if the hierarchical Church so defines” [365] [95] which is not at all a call for blind obedience; we can understand it well only on the level of faith. The mysteries of faith surpass our limited human intellect; they are paradoxical (think of the Trinity, of Jesus as being wholly God and wholly Man, or of the Eucharist), not fully understandable with rational mind and yet the believer must hold on to them as defined content of our faith [96]. We stress that this is valid only for the defined mysteries of faith, and not for every position of the ecclesial authorities that can be arguable. Our obedience should be lived with the freedom of conscience described in [351] and it requires also reasoning and confrontation along with listening and obeying to God who guides us through the indwelling Holy Spirit. St. Ignatius points out at the end of this guideline that same Holy Spirit who is guiding “our holy Mother Church” in its clearly defined positions and guarantees for the truth of them, guides each individual giving him or her faith and love toward the community of the Church, the Spouse of Christ. Our adhesion does not mean just an intellectual acceptance of a doctrine, but it is a union with and a deep love toward the Church.

The companions themselves will be able to point out several controversial issues of our days and reflect upon these in order to form a position of their own. Sometimes and in certain areas the new attitude toward the Church will challenge them strongly and call them for conversions, intellectually, affectively and in the social-political sphere demanding from them prayerful discernment. For example, contemporary social and political issues require that they re-interpret sin, which has become extremely individualized in the last centuries. The companions need to understand the social dimension of sin and face the fact that our cultures are steeped in it. Examples of challenges are the issues of right to life which needs to be interpreted much broader and extended from the question of abortion and euthanasia on issues like the injustice and horrors of wars and the lack of necessary resources that kill so many on our planet today. Finally, in the Church itself there is the problem of the still widespread clericalism, questions about the role of women and of the formation and admittance of lay people in positions of responsibility in the Church and of the use of authority in general.

Summarizing these guidelines we can say that the companions need to establish a habitual positive attitude toward the Church as even if it seems to fail to embody the gospel it should represent this to the world and they need to guide themselves (and maybe others) to live and work within the ecclesial community even amidst complex, confusing and controversial situations.

[1] Cf. Lefrank – Giuliani, “Freedom for Service”, p. 120. (The “Guidelines to deal with material goods” [337-344] as we saw in [169-189] “Arriving to a Decision” is an example of the third method of decision and so fits in the Second Phase).

[2] Cf. Nigro, op. cit. p. 49.

[3] Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 143.

[4] The guidelines will remain valid if somebody wants to consider the use of the terms angel, evil spirit and devil as metaphorical. We will refer to the angels, to the evil spirit or to the devil for sake of simplicity with the masculine pronoun “he”.

[5] See more about the history of discernment in Christian spirituality in Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” pp. 139 ff. There is a chapter about biblical discernment in Thomas H. Green, S.J., Weeds Among the Wheat, (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1984) pp.21-53.

[6] Cf. Lefrank – Giuliani, “Freedom for Service”, p. 181 ff.

[7] Cf. Barry, “What Do I Want in Prayer?,” pp.124-125.

[8] Cf. “St. Ignatius’ Own Story,” # 6-8. pp. 9-10. He says later that God treated him as a schoolmaster teaching a young pupil at that time (Ibid., # 27, p. 22). See also Green, “Weeds Among the Wheat,” pp. 92-93.

[9] We might see a certain similarity between seeking God’s will and the quest for meaning in life as logotherapy presents it: we are questioned by life constantly and need to answer to these challenges in order to realize the unique meaning of each given moment. Cf. Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” pp. 171-173.

[10] St. Ignatius constantly uses the word “mirar” meaning to look at attentively to express the prayerful deep reflection that excludes prejudices and assures the freedom of choice. In his vocabulary the key word for discernment is “sentir” referring to a “felt-knowledge”, an affective and intuitive insight that leads to the final decision that he calls “juzgar”. Cf. Nigro, op. cit. p. 56-58. Here the author quotes from a study on the Ignatian vocabulary from “Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits,” of John Carroll Futrell, S. J. published in Ignatian Discernment Vol. II, No. 2 (April, 1970).

[11] See the usage of the word “parecer” in the language of Ignatius, meaning an opinion of a certain degree of certitude in ibid., p. 56.

[12] “Discernment of the spirits” is listed among the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Cor 12:10. The Spirit renders possible to judge everything through revealing to us the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:10b-16).

[13] Our outline is similar to the one proposed by John C. Futrell. Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 140.

[14] See also [329]. Scruples (cf. [345-351]) are also in this category of disturbances.

[15] Cf. Rom 1:29-31; 1 Cor 6:9-10

[16] Cf. Lefrank – Giuliani, “Freedom for Service”, p. 190.

[17] Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 142. Other expressions to describe this depth of our spirit might be the center or the core of our being where the Holy Spirit dwells (pneumatic dimension).

[18] Directoria Execitiorum Spiritualium, 1540-1599, #18, quoted in ibid., p. 144.

[19] Cf. Nigro, op. cit., pp. 62-63.

[20] Cf. Ibid., p. 63.

[21] Frankl, “The Doctor and the Soul,” p. 84 ff.

[22] Directoria Execitiorum Spiritualium, 1540-1599, #12, quoted in Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 144.

[23] St. Ignatius in [314] uses the classic term of “thoughts” for the interior movements toward actions. Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” pp. 144-145.

[24] Cf. Lefrank – Giuliani, “Freedom for Service”, p. 192.

[25] For example the “dark nights” of St. John of the Cross are such “beginnings” in spiritual life when one’s prayer life changes dramatically. Cf. Green, “Weeds Among the Wheat,” p. 107.

[26] Cf. Lefrank – Giuliani, “Freedom for Service”, p. 121.

[27] Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 145.

[28] Thomas Green S.J. says that even if people forget everything else they ever learned about discernment, this one rule they should remember nevertheless. Cf. Green, “Weeds Among the Wheat,” p. 108.

[29] See what we call the “prayer of paradoxical intention” in [157]. It refers to the logotherapeutic technique presented in the “General Guidelines to the Exercises” [16] in the “Preparatory Phase”. See also [350].

[30] Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 146. See more about penance in the Additions # 10 [73-90] in the First Phase and also the “Guidelines with Regard of Eating” [210-217] for the Third Phase.

[31] Cf. Green, “Weeds Among the Wheat,” pp. 110-111. This guideline serves also as a good example of the “mind-fasting” and “spirit-feasting” of Christotherapy which we presented in the First Phase, in [55-61] under the first point of the exercise.

[32] Cf. Barry, “What Do I Want in Prayer?,” pp.129-130.

[33] For example the understanding that desolation occurs because the sort of job one has is in conflict with his or her unique talents and call, might mean that this person needs to change occupation if it is possible and when peace returns. During the Exercises we need to do regular reviews based on the Additions [73-90] of how faithfully we are proceeding with it. This review of the Exercises is similar to the review of the past day in the Examination of the Consciousness [24-44].

[34] Cf. Green, “Weeds Among the Wheat,” pp. 112-113 and p. 299.

[35] “This ultimate meaning necessarily exceeds and surpasses the finite intellectual capacities of man; in logotherapy we speak in this context of a supra-meaning. What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaninglessness of life; but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms. Logos is deeper than logic.” (Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning, pp. 187-188).

[36] Cf. Ibid., pp. 117-118. Thomas Green in his presentation uses also the analogy of the “testing” of the steel that gets stronger by this process of refining.

[37] Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 148.

[38] See our introduction to the Third Phase where we point out this relation to the paschal mystery and refer to the concept of spiral as image of the conversion process from Christotherapy (Cf. Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” pp. 3-6). A similar view of the alternating desolation and consolation is presented in Nigro, op. cit., p. 65.

[39] We mean by this not during the time of lack of emotional movements or “tranquility” of the third method of decision ([177]; see in “Arriving to a Decision” [169-189]).

[40] In the presentation of the second method of decision (see in “Arriving to a Decision” [169-189]) we referred already to the book of Dr. Maxwell Maltz entitled “Psychocybernetics” that has examples of the creative use of imagination in exercising for better performance in a future task.

[41] Cf. Green, “Weeds Among the Wheat,” p. 119. See also “St. Ignatius’ Own Story,” # 24, where he accounts that during his stay in Manresa because of tormenting thoughts he was frequently tempted to throw himself into an excavation to end his life.

[42] Cf. Nigro, op. cit., p. 66.

[43] Ibid., p. 66.

[44] Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 141.

[45] Cf. Lefrank – Giuliani, “Freedom for Service”, p. 196.

[46] Cf. Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” p. 192.

[47] We continue to use a personified language for the source of temptations keeping in mind that the expression “evil spirit” stands for all forces against God and includes our own human reality, resistance, scruples and similar as well as the literal devil.

[48] Green, “Weeds Among the Wheat,” pp. 125-126.

[49] Cf. Stanley, “A Modern Scriptural Approach to the Spiritual Exercises,” p. 251. and see also Nigro, op. cit., p. 67.

[50] Although St. Ignatius mentions “God and his angels”, it is not a necessary distinction and we can simply say that true consolation comes from the Holy Spirit.

[51] Cf. Ibid., 67-69. Here the author gives a detailed analysis of “spiritual joy”. In the context of suffering and joy he quotes John English’ profound saying that there is a kind of consolation even “in the humiliation of not being a good sufferer”, but if we are not able to find consolation in the midst of the trials of Christian life, then we ought to do more discernment for the causes of this lack of spiritual joy.

[52] Cf. Green, “Weeds Among the Wheat,” p. 128. The Ignatian expression “serpent’s tail” designates the trail of evil recognizable in the results of the temptation and refers to the devil with the biblical image of serpent or snake. The original in [334] is “de su cola serpentina”, “by his serpent’s tail”; this form can be found in the translation of Elder Mullan, S.J., while Luis Puhl, S.J. used the expression “by the trail of evil”.

[53] Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 158.

[54] See it in “Arriving to a Decision” [169-189].

[55] The remark of St. Ignatius in [15] that the spiritual director (the role that in our case the companions play for each other) “should permit the Creator to deal directly with the creature” might be sign that he thought of this consolation as a probable experience during the Exercises.

[56] Cf. Green, “Weeds Among the Wheat,” pp. 128-129. See also Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 157. For a presentation Karl Rahner’s philosophical interpretation of this type of consolation see the already quoted work entitled “The Dynamic Element in The Church”.

[57] John J. English, S.J., “Mysterious Joy of the Poor and the Complex Causes of Consolation,” Review of Ignatian Spirituality [CIS], no. 85 (Rome: 1997), pp.74-75.

[58] Soeur Thérèse of Lisieux edited by Rev. T.N. Taylor (London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, 1912; 8th ed., 1922) containing the Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (The Story of a Soul) and in its epilogue describing her final illness, her death, and related events. (Available at the Gutenberg Project, in electronic version)

[59] From “The Writings of St. Francis of Assisi”, (Translated from the Critical Latin Edition, edited by Fr. Kajetan Esser, O.F.M., The Franciscan Archive, 2000) find online on

[60] Cf. Green, “Weeds Among the Wheat,” p. 134.

[61] Cf. Nigro, op. cit., pp. 70-71.

[62] Cf. Green, “Weeds Among the Wheat,” p. 135.

[63] Cf. Nigro, op. cit., p. 71.

[64] Thomas Green has more examples of possible pitfalls in “the beginning, the middle and end” of a consolation. Cf. Green, “Weeds Among the Wheat,” pp. 137-140.

[65] Cf. Ibid., p. 147.

[66] Nigro, op. cit., p. 71.

[67] Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 155-156.

[68] St. Ignatius description of the action of the spirits can be traced back to the second century writing, the “Shepherd of Hermas” (c. 140-150 A.D.). In the Sixth Mandatum it says that “…the angel of righteousness is delicate and bashful and gentle and tranquil” while “…the angel of wickedness …is quicktempered and bitter and senseless, and his works are evil, overthrowing the servants of God…Whenever a fit of angry temper or bitterness comes upon thee, know that he is in thee” (2:2-5), quoted in Ibid., p. 154.

[69] Nigro, op. cit., p. 72. Father Nigro here quotes from Thomas Merton’s “Ascent to Truth” a beautiful description of the action of the Holy Spirit in our hearts saying that the inspirations of the Spirit of God are quiet and most of the time they tell us to be still; they free us from ambition and render us more humble; they are not grandiose but simple; they lead to obscure but happy paths and they give a sense of liberation, “for He is the Spirit of Truth and the Truth shall make you free” (cf. Jn 14:17 and 8:32).

[70] Read more on communal discernment for companions at the end of the chapter “Arriving to a decision” [169-189].

[71] The expression “hermeneutic circle” means “circle of interpretation” and originally refers to the understanding of some text. The meaning of the text is to be found in a movement back and forth between the parts and the whole of the text – hence the circle –while the interpretation must take into consideration also the cultural, historical, and literary context. The concept of “text” later has been extended beyond written documents to include, for example, speech, performances, works of art, and even events. In the philosophy of Heidegger for example the hermeneutic circle refers to the interplay between our self-understanding and our understanding the world. The hermeneutic circle is no longer just a philological tool, but entails an existential task with which each of us is confronted; it deals with the meaning—or lack of meaning—of human life. In the discernment process the “text” is given in our consolation that requires interpretation to see if it contains a true inspiration, a “word of God” for us.

[72] Cf. Green, “Weeds Among the Wheat,” p. 133.

[73] Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 80 and p. 96. The third method is useful also whenever a decision should be made in a limited timeframe that does not allow waiting for the psychological movements.

[74] For example let us mention the “Two Standards” [136-148] and the “Three Types of Attitudes” [149-157] meditations along with the contemplations of the life of Jesus. The “Guidelines with regard of Eating” [210-217] at the end of the Third Phase are about temperance and moderation providing help to order consciously all aspects of life.

[75] See in “Arriving to a Decision” [169-189].

[76] This is true in both ways, applies also for the woman even if Scripture mentions only the man.

[77] Interestingly, St. Ignatius here refers to a decree of the third synod of Carthage (397 A. D.) where St. Augustine was present that “the furniture of the bishop should be cheap and poor”.

[78] Cf. Lefrank – Giuliani, “Freedom for Service”, p. 120. These notes may become helpful in connection with the “Guidelines with regard of Eating” [210-217].

[79] It should not to be confused with mental illness, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, or other psychological pathologies.

[80] See “St. Ignatius’ Own Story,” # 22-25.

[81] See in “Arriving to a Decision” [169-189].

[82] We found this example in Green, “Weeds Among the Wheat,” p. 148.

[83] We may observe in this description of the situation the conditions that should accompany the use of freedom. It recalls the frequent warning of Viktor Frankl that without responsibility freedom may degenerate into arbitrariness. Being free is just one aspect of human life, while being responsible is the other and indispensable side of it. Cf. Frankl, “The Unheard Cry of Meaning” p. 60.

[84] Cf. [313] under (5) and the footnote on the importance of “sentir” in Ignatian vocabulary. This ideal goes back also to the notion of scholastic theology that knowledge is perfected in love. See also Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” pp. 167-169. Bernard Tyrrell maybe having in mind the Ignatian “sentido” speaks of the “love-knowledge” character of religious conversion, in Tyrrell, “Christotherapy I,” pp. 14-16.

[85] In fact St. Ignatius says in [313] that the guidelines for discernment serve in some way to “sentir” and understand the different movements. Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” pp. 167-168 and p. 174.

[86] The word “animo” means here the whole person. Cf. Ibid., p. 176.

[87] St. Ignatius was disturbed by the sarcastic criticism of the great humanist scholar Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466 – 1536) toward the Church and the pope particularly. That did not mean that St. Ignatius did not see the serious problems of the Church of his time and did not address these, even with respect to popes. Cf. Ibid., 177.

[88] This analogy is from George E. Ganss, S.J.; see ibid., p. 176.

[89] Let us refer in this context to the example of the Oscar Romero, assassinated Archbishop of San Salvador whose episcopal motto was “Sentir con la Iglesia”, that is, feeling and thinking with the Church. He chose this motto from the Spiritual Exercises and lived his loving dedication to the Church in a painfully complex situation characterized by a strained relationship with the Vatican. In his understanding the Church did not mean just the hierarchy - to which he was always obedient - but the people who form body of Christ and who are in need of liberation. The teaching of the same hierarchical Church demanded him to care for the oppressed and the poor and Romero accepted the conflicts, even the death that came as consequence of his being one with this suffering Church. Read more in the excellent monograph of Douglas Marcouiller, S.J, entitled “Archbishop with an Attitude: Oscar Romero’s Sentir con la Iglesia,” Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits 35:3, (May 2003) pp. 1-52.

[90] Our summary does not claim to be complete and it applies for Catholic individuals or couples, but we think that companions belonging to other denominations can successfully make a similar outline for their communities.

[91] In this context read “Universal Call to Holiness”, Chapter V of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Lumen Gentium) paragraphs 39-42. It says “The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and every one of His disciples of every condition.” (Lumen Gentium, 40).

[92] Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 170.

[93] St. Ignatius here has in his mind again the harshly critical attitude of Erasmus that disturbed so much his disciplined and obedient spirit and which he considered speaking evil of superiors in their absence, something that did great harm to the listeners. Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 170. In his later life St. Ignatius would not even handle the writings of Erasmus because they “froze the spirit of his soul” (Monumenta Historica, “Monumenta Ignatiana: Exercitia Spiritualia,” Madrid, 1919, p. 131).

[94] In this guideline St. Ignatius partially reacts on the attacks of Erasmus against the contemporary scholastic theology.

[95] Ignatius’ expression is a rhetorical riposte to Erasmus who wrote in the context of the approval of some assertions of the archconservative Noel Beda that “black would not be white if the Roman Pontiff were to say so, which I know he will never do” Cf. Ibid., p. 177.

[96] Cf. Ibid., p. 171.